“Feminist Contributions to the Good Life” by Dr. Alba Carosio

Alba Carosio
“Feminist Contributions to the Good Life” by Dr. Alba Carosio, Director of Womens Studies Center of the Central Venezuela University (UCV) and author. Listen to the English audio file or audio file in Spanish. – Read the original Spanish presentation.

[Translation of her presentation at the First Global Prout Conference in Venezuela, “Building a Solidarity Economy based on Ethics and Ecology”, July 7-9, 2011, Caracas.]

Good morning everyone. I’m very thankful for the opportunity to share with you some ideas and thoughts on the work we have been doing at the Womens Studies Center of the Central Venezuela University (UCV). I think this is a very good conference is a place that is relevant, interesting and very adequate to share with you. I will talk about what is women’s perspective, what is the feminist vision of the good life. I think we women have a lot to say. We have so much to say about the project just presented by our companion [Didi Ananda Sadhana] from Centro Madre, which is is a feminist project. There is a feminine principle in action in the world.

First I want to mention that feminism proposes a new way of life, a new way to live together, a new way of making society, where the feminine principle is more included and visible. Because we women and we men can now see where we have been led by the exclusive utilization of masculine principles in society.

First I want to explain what we mean by “good life” or “good living” or “living life”. These are concepts that have existed throughout history. For example, the early Greeks talked about the good life that was characterized by virtue. It also had its center in the concept of polis [city-state], which means that individually one cannot achieve a good life, and this is important, that a good life happens in community, because a single individual cannot enjoy a good life.

We also have the philosophical roots of our original, indigenous people. Today the Constitution of Ecuador, for example, talks about sumak kawsay [in the Quichua langauge], and the same concept is also in other indigenous languages. What does sumak kawsay mean? It is defined as good living, as human co-existence in diversity and harmony with nature, in a balanced and complementary way, between human beings and nature. This idea of a complementary society, a collective construction, is a very important idea to what the good life, good living and living life is.

We also have another idea of living well which is closely related to the previous idea. The Constitution of Bolivia refers to suma qamaña or teko kavi [in Aymara language], which mean a good life in which citizens co-exist in diversity and harmony with nature. There we have two fundamental ideas that I would like to point out: the idea of complementary living in society and the idea of co-existence.

What is happening now? We currently live in a capitalist society. But it is not only a capitalist society, it is also a patriarchal society. What does patriarchy mean? Patriarchy means that we have a social contract in a capitalist society based on equality in the abstract. In this social contract, human beings do not have needs, or sex, they are not flesh and bones, they are only abstract beings. They are individuals living in society, but without flesh and blood, where basic needs like living, eating, sexuality, etc. are invisible. They are humans without bodies.

Regarding this social contract that takes place in polis, there is another social contract, an intimate one, that takes place in homes. Because when human beings go to to work, it is because we have bathed ourselves, we have eaten, etc. and who takes care of all these things in our homes? Women do. Who prepares food, who takes care of the babies? As my companion from Centro Madre made very clear, it’s about our personal growth. Who helps the family to grow? Women do. This is the maternal role. But this role is completely invisible in our society. That means that in the family, in private spaces, it’s as if women didn’t exist. Because when we talk about human beings, we are human beings of flesh and blood, we are women, we are men, we are elders, we are children, we are fat, we are thin. We are not human beings in the abstract without a body.

Then there is a completely hidden side of human reproduction. When we talk about human reproduction, we talk about the need to unfold and reproduce within a natural environment. In the same way that the natural environment is needed, women are also needed, otherwise there wouldn’t be reproduction.

What happens to women and the feminist vision of life? There are very real needs, and there is no way to eliminate them or overcome them. Needs are good, they are part of human life, and we need to satisfy them constantly. That’s why it is necessary that we women have such a vision, that we men and we women have that vision of our needs, because they are what make us flesh and blood people and take us to nature. That is why we are not denying our needs, we are not eliminating them, rather we want them to be seen. When we decide to become free by overcoming our needs, that is a lie. It is simply because we have appointed other people to look after our needs. It is as if one member of a community looks after another member, for instance. As my companion said about the communities of Barlovento, you see very young women getting pregnant and boys hanging out. Why? Because they have endorsed human reproduction and human needs to women to take care of.

This means that we are now facing a visible crisis in the way we live and produce. But there is a hidden crisis as well, due to the lack of attention in human life. The visible crisis works by the logic of accumulation and I think you know this very well. We have credit issues that always are helpful to stimulate consumption. Fundamental to the free market is the merchandising of happiness. This means that when ordinary people like us want to look for happiness, we wonder what to buy. As if buying something could bring us happiness. And this is an example of individual solutions to systemic contradictions, which goes against the idea of the good life, good living, the suma qamaña. Happiness would not be possible if it really was merchandise and there was no new concept of community.

What does feminism propose? It proposes we bring to light and value the work of constantly caring for our lives, which happens within our families and is usually invisible. When we visit rural communities and look at the areas where people communally wash clothes, the majority of people washing are women. My companion in Centro Madre talked about a women’s sewing cooperative. Women are those who make flesh and life work in communities.

It is important that this subject be thought about and analyzed, not only what is visible, but also what is invisible. Many things are right in front of our eyes, so that we think of them as normal. We don’t even realize they exist.

There is a worldwide care crisis. Why? Because in the capitalist world, working schedules are so long that it would be absolutely impossible for a person who works to take care of human beings. A man who leaves home at 8:00am or 6:00am, travels two hours to get to work, leaves work at 8:00pm and travels two more hours to get home – who is he going to take care of? Practically he cannot even take care of himself! There is a family pattern, which is the patriarchal pattern, that leaves the responsibility for child care to women. What can a woman do if she is single, or even living with a partner, if she also has to work?

Another women’s work, a subject I will not go into deeply here, is care for the aging population. This phenomenon is happening around the world, because mortality rates have fallen, and it is happening in Venezuela, too. It is common to look for individual solutions to face all these problems. That’s why patriarchy supports capitalism, because every man thinks that at home I’m the king. As I’m the king of my home, I have no reason to change anything that is happening in my home.

It is thought that the human being is autonomous. That’s a lie. We are not autonomous. All human beings, men and women, need others. That’s why we women bring into consideration a very important idea: that work is not only social productive, the production of goods, but also the production of society, the production of love, as my companion said, and the production of human relations.

We need a new social pact that enhances life and sustainability, and its amplified reproduction – because life cannot sustain itself without reproducing, and to sustain life it is necessary to reproduce – at the center of our socio-economic organization, bringing down the logic of domination and profit, and making the whole society responsible to maintain life.

How can we describe all this in two words? It’s about maternalizing society. To change capitalism, we have to change patriarchy. Mothers cannot be only women, mothers have to be the whole society. We have to maternalize society and men, and dematernalize women, that is, reduce the burden women have carried by themselves for many centuries, and that is now in crisis. A new society is being born.

Thank you very much.
[Translated by Eugenio Mendoza and Dada Maheshvarananda]

Panel 5 questions and answers